Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ideological Turing Test Complete! ... you failed.

So, it turns out I don't make a very convincing Atheist or a very convnicing Christian.

Unequally Yoked recently concluded it's (annual?) Ideological Turing Contest.  You can find the preliminary Athiest results and Christian results posted already, with a promise of more in depth statistcal analysis on the way (I can't be the only one who gets excited at the words "statistical analysis", can I?).  And if there is such a thing as a winner and loser (it is a contest, after all), I most certainly lost (twice).  I was the only entrant who scored below 50% both in my real answer and my fake answer (no, that's not pride you hear in my voice).

First, a brief description of my strategy: for my Athiest entry, I tried to describe reality as I see it if Atheism is true.  I can't really be upset that most people found it not very compelling- I don't find it very compelling myself.  But I do find it the most internally consistent.

What did surprise me- though I suppose it shouldn't- is how many people thought I was a Catholic.  Certainly I've done a fair bit of religious reading over the last several months, so some of the Catholic verbiage has probably entered my vocabulary through Osmosis (references to "Authority" and Chesterton's "truth-telling thing" ostensibly gave me away as a Catholic sympathizer).  But I think my real problem is that I didn't present Atheism as a compelling framework that anybody would ever want to believe in- and that's because I legitimately don't think it is.

For my Christian entry, I made the monumental mistake of trying to immitate a fundamentalist evangelical.  I had some good reasons for doing this- I grew up in fundamentalist evangelical Christianity, the vast majority of my friends are fundamentalist evangelicals, and I frankly didn't think I could hack it as a Catholic immatator.  I don't know any of the cool Latin phrases, and I was afraid I'd be given away when I launched into a paragraph-long explanation of why we can't rely on scripture in a vacuum, not realizing that a real Catholic would reference sola scriptura in any such discussion (hey look, I do know one!)

That said, I really should have realized a couple of flaws in my diabolical plan. 

First, I no longer think like a fundamentalist.  That different type of thinking is what led me to reject it in the first place, and it's only gotten worse in the last three years as I've stopped going to church and Bible study regularly.  For every question, I tried to ask myself "what would my friend so-and-so say to this?", but it turns out I failed pretty miserably at that.  While I don't think my answers were necessarily too far off from what my fundamentalist friends believe, they're waaaaaaay off from what my fundamentalist friends would have answered (this came out pretty clearly in the comments section of my Christian post.)  I care about really different issues than most fundamentalists, and I got caught red handed.

Second, there's not a lot of fundamentalists on Unequally Yoked.  I tend to think that a legitimate fundamentalist answer would not have done particularly well either (though this is pure speculation on my part)

Third, I apparently no longer know how to talk like a fundamentalist either.  Even in trying to answer in the voice of my fundamentalist friends, some Catholic ideas wormed their way in (I blame Jennifer).  In particular, the idea of the Church as a truth-telling thing once again reared its ugly head (though interestingly, Chesterton has been recommended to me by several pastors/friends/relatives who are decidedly not Catholic- and for the record, I have read Orthodoxy, but nothing else from Chesterton.  The Everlasting Man currently sits gathering dust on my shelf, 15th or so in line)

In retrospect, I wish I had either tried my hand as a Catholic (though I suspect I woul have done just as poorly), or else given my best approximation of reality if God is in fact real.  At least that would have made for a more interesting read.  Instead, I tried to tow a party line, and didn't do it particularly well.

Finally, I proffer two quotes from the comments I thought were worth mentioning:

"Plus, like math_geek says, an even moderately educated Christian would have talked of homosexual behaviour rather than homosexuality per se"

This one actually really surprised me.  I lived my whole life in fundamentalist Christianity, and this was (obviously) not drilled into me nearly so well as readers thought it would have been.  Not sure if this is a reflection of my upbringing, or of the unequally yoked community, or of how far I've lost touch with my Christian roots.  Regardless, an interesting introspective for me.

"Totally atheist. Probably just about died writing the words “I wouldn’t defer to any holy book that advocated violence or oppression.""

This one made me laugh.  He's correct in saying I don't agree with this stance- but in all my conversations with my fundamentalist friends, the majority of them definitely believe this.

I really like Eve Tushnet's conclusion on this- humility humility humility!  Even though I like to think I have a pretty good idea of all the major players at the table, it's pretty clear- both from the degree of difficulty this assignment presented me and from how objectively poorly I did at convincing people I was playing for their side- that I don't understand nearly so much as I think.

Big thanks to Leah for running the turing test, and for letting a schmuck like me have a go.  I wish I could say I would do better next time- maybe she could add an agnostic category.  I think I'd nail that one.


  1. Something I too find fascinating is that many people thought you were a Catholic. I haven't read your responses, but this doesn't surprise me either, from what little I've read in your blog. Your mentality is very much like mine minus the Catholicism. I think this is because I've found Catholicism to be the theistic belief that most accommodates free-thinking, logic, and questions.

    "I grew up in fundamentalist evangelical Christianity, the vast majority of my friends are fundamentalist evangelicals, and I frankly didn't think I could hack it as a Catholic immatator."

    "It's pretty clear- both from the degree of difficulty this assignment presented me and from how objectively poorly I did at convincing people I was playing for their side- that I don't understand nearly so much as I think."

    These two quotes lead me to wonder-- how deeply have you looked into the Catholic faith? Though I disagree when people say that "Catholics aren't Christians," I find myself thinking of us Catholics as somehow separate from the generic "Christian" crowd. Being Catholic myself, I tend to believe that Catholicism is the purest form of Christianity, but then again, I'm biased ;)

    ANYWAY, like I said, I haven't read much of your blog (only a few posts), so I don't know if you've already done this or not, but a lot of the problems you seem to be encountering in varying forms of theism seem to be non-issues when seen from a Catholic perspective.

    I'm still young and I don't feel like I'm an expert at these things, but I just wanted to throw that idea out there. You seem to genuinely want some answers, and I feel for you! I hope you find your answers someday. In the meantime, I'll pray for you.



    1. I have spent some time on Catholicism recently- I just finished reading Four Witnesses, and I've got the Catechism staring me in the face any time I want to dare to pick it up. I suspect I would do a fair bit better now imitating a Catholic than I would have done six months ago (though of course we'd need an empirical test to be sure...)

      That said, at this point my interest in Catholicism is mostly academic. I think the issues that present to Catholicism are different than those that present to Protestantism, but Catholicism can't ultimately escape the fact that it is a faith-based religion that is in contradiction with reductionism (to vastly oversimplify the issues I see). I find sufficient evidence in observable reality to dismiss the concept of a supernatural anything (unless and until something happens to drastically update my priors)

    2. I've done a bit of research on reductionism and its relationship to religion, and I'm not sure I understand what you mean by religion being in contradiction with reductionism. Do you have a specific blog post or link that would explain this to me? Thanks! :)

    3. I do now! :D

    4. Cool! I'll be sure to check it out! :D Thanks :)